Judith Shulevitz has a great article up at the NYT about how our colleges and universities have gone to absurd lengths to coddle students’ delicate psyches.
KATHERINE BYRON, a senior at Brown University and a member of its Sexual Assault Task Force, considers it her duty to make Brown a safe place for rape victims, free from anything that might prompt memories of trauma.
So when she heard last fall that a student group had organized a debate about campus sexual assault between Jessica Valenti, the founder of feministing.com, and Wendy McElroy, a libertarian, and that Ms. McElroy was likely to criticize the term “rape culture,” Ms. Byron was alarmed. “Bringing in a speaker like that could serve to invalidate people’s experiences,” she told me. It could be “damaging.”
Ms. Byron and some fellow task force members secured a meeting with administrators. Not long after, Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, announced that the university would hold a simultaneous, competing talk to provide “research and facts” about “the role of culture in sexual assault.” Meanwhile, student volunteers put up posters advertising that a “safe space” would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting.
The “safe space” was basically a toddler room:
The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.
You really should really the whole thing. It gets into the increasing culture of creating “safe spaces” where students can be sheltered from ideas that might challenge their beliefs or offend them. Only some ideas, of course. If a Muslim student complained that miniskirts made him uncomfortable or a Christian complained that gays “triggered” him, I doubt they would get much sympathy.
As an academic, I want to make one point: most students aren’t like this. Most of the students I deal with are hard-working rational people who don’t really care about political correctness. The problem is that the whiners — the product of increasing helicopter parenting and schools obsessed with promoting “self-esteem” — have the floor. Moreover, the government is aggressively using Title VIII and IX to push schools into compliance with politically correct agendas. And it’s affecting how our schools operate.
I’m old enough to remember a time when college students objected to providing a platform to certain speakers because they were deemed politically unacceptable. Now students worry whether acts of speech or pieces of writing may put them in emotional peril. Two weeks ago, students at Northwestern University marched to protest an article by Laura Kipnis, a professor in the university’s School of Communication. Professor Kipnis had criticized — O.K., ridiculed — what she called the sexual paranoia pervading campus life
Last fall, the president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, apologized for causing students and faculty to be “hurt” when she failed to object to a racial epithet uttered by a fellow panel member at an alumnae event in New York. The offender was the free-speech advocate Wendy Kaminer, who had been arguing against the use of the euphemism “the n-word” when teaching American history or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” In the uproar that followed, the Student Government Association wrote a letter declaring that “if Smith is unsafe for one student, it is unsafe for all students.”
“It’s amazing to me that they can’t distinguish between racist speech and speech about racist speech, between racism and discussions of racism,” Ms. Kaminer said in an email.
Professors are guiding their course work away from anything controversial as well. For example, law professors are shying away from discussing rape law, lest they trigger someone. Entire hordes of administrators are hired to make sure everyone is being sensitive and caring (and then student wonder why college costs so much).
So how can we stop this rising Cult of the Victim? Pushback on the campuses themselves is a big part. But another big help would be for the federal government to affirm its supposed commitment to free expression. A complaint that a university is “unsafe” can trigger a potentially damaging federal investigation. In the past, the government has respected free speech but that commitment has weakened in recent years as universities and the government embrace the Left-wing notion that some speech isn’t really speech, but hostile action.
The recent SAE incident was a perfect opportunity for this. The Department of Education could have made it clear that, as students at a public university, the students had free speech rights. But they let that opportunity pass by. And I don’t see this Administration ever standing up the campus politeness police.